Narrative: Amazon Mistreats Employees
Each narrative page (like this) has a page describing and evaluating the narrative, followed by all the posts on the site tagged with that narrative. Scroll down beyond the introduction to see the posts.
Narrative: Amazon Mistreats Employees (Jan 24, 2017)
Written: January 24, 2017
Amazon has been accused over the years of mistreating two distinct categories of employees: the blue collar workers who man its fulfillment centers and warehouses, and the white collar workers who staff its offices. The issues affecting the two sets of workers are different, and worth looking at separately.
The allegations of mistreatment of blue collar workers have been far more prevalent and gone on for much longer, and since these workers make up the bulk of Amazon’s overall employees, it’s worth looking at those first. Allegations of mistreatment against these employees include:
- Paying insufficient wages for workers to live on – one recent story from Scotland claimed several workers were sleeping in tents near the warehouse (in an echo of a recent story about Uber)
- Forcing workers to wait outside in frigid temperatures for long periods after a fire alarm sounded
- Pressuring workers to make “rate” (or meet high and strict performance standards)
- Making workers walk between 7 and 15 miles per day up and down the aisles in the warehouse
- Taking up considerably more of workers’ time than they’re paid for with security checks and other processes before and after shifts (a right Amazon has successfully defended all the way up to the Supreme Court)
- Forcing workers to operate in very high heat inside warehouses
- Opposing unionization among workers
I could go on, but you get the picture – some of these are about specific incidents, while others are about the everyday conditions of working in a fulfillment center. How you feel about all this probably largely depends on your existing notions of worker-employer relationships, subjects like unionization and the minimum wage, and so on. It’s absolutely clear both that there have been isolated incidents of inhumane treatment of workers, and that the everyday life of an Amazon warehouse worker is grueling.
However, Amazon points out that it employs many people who otherwise wouldn’t be employed, that each of its employees can quit if they’d prefer to work somewhere else, and so on. It pays above (sometimes barely above) minimum wage, and offers long-term job security to those who are willing to put up with the demands of the job.
It’s tough to find a completely objective view of Amazon’s blue collar workers’ jobs, but Glassdoor offers one perspective. It’s a site where employees can rate their jobs and provide information about salaries. The 338 Amazon warehouse associates who have reviewed the job give it an average of 3.1 out of 5 stars, only 56% would recommend the job to a friend, and 66% approve of CEO Jeff Bezos. This Forbes piece summarizes some of the more detailed findings. Indeed.com is a similar site and Amazon Warehouse Worker has an average of 3.7 stars out of 5 there. For context, similar Costco jobs seem to receive higher ratings, while equivalents at Walmart are broadly similar.
Stories about white collar workers at Amazon have been far rarer, in large part because the number is smaller and these people will typically have other options to go to in similar professional settings. But the New York Times did an in-depth expose a while back about working conditions in the Amazon offices, which painted a fairly unflattering picture too. It spoke of a highly competitive culture, one which was unsympathetic to personal challenges like illness, and cited a number of former employees who had had a miserable experience working there. Amazon pushed back fairly hard, both denying some of the specific claims and inviting employees who felt similarly to raise their concerns with HR.
The reality is that across both blue collar and white collar jobs, Amazon pushes its employees hard – that the stories mostly come from former employees is an indication that these conditions are absolutely not right for some people, and they shouldn’t work there. Others are apparently happy (or at least willing) to continue to work in either blue or white collar jobs at Amazon, and a little over 300,000 do so as of the end of September 2016. Conditions could definitely be better for blue collar workers and there will undoubtedly be more cases of one-off events which are far worse than everyday conditions. But comparing Amazon employment to similar jobs either at the warehouse or office level suggests that it’s probably about par for the course, or only slightly worse.
Amazon launches Pivot a new training program to help employees in danger of being fired – Business Insider (Jan 19, 2017)
Amazon has gained a reputation over time for treating its employees poorly – the New York Times famously did an in-depth investigate piece on this topic as it relates to Amazon’s white collar employees, and it talked about Amazon’s Performance Improvement Plan for underperforming employees. This article talks about a new program intended to benefit those placed on a PIP by helping them develop their skills, and can be seen as an effort by Amazon to help those with poor evaluations rather than merely taking the first steps towards an eventual dismissal for cause. The PIP process was far from the only element of working in a white collar job at Amazon that the New York Times wrote about, and of course Amazon pushed back against some of the other allegations in the report. And then there are the working conditions in blue collar jobs at Amazon’s warehouses and fulfillment centers. So this is part of changing the narrative, but only really addresses one small piece of it.